As Sega delivers its range of retro 3D reproductions to the 3DS eShop, it'll certainly be interesting to see how sizeable an audience warms to each release. For some, fond memories of iconic Sega arcades or home console ports will make purchases irresistible, but perhaps the greatest challenge facing these releases is standing up as worthwhile download offerings in 2013. While 3D Space Harrier stacks up pretty well in the opening salvo, considering its simplicity of play, it perhaps falls to 3D Super Hang-On to kick it up a gear.
And it does. This has always been a relatively fast-paced and simplistic bike racer, most memorable for its arcade units; its port on the Mega Drive / Genesis had a fairly wonky frame-rate, which means it's a major positive that this is based on the superior arcade original. The game tasks you with dashing between checkpoints and topping up your remaining time, with each segment likely to take anything from 30 to 50 seconds. There are four classes to tackle — Beginner, Junior, Senior and Expert — that become increasingly lengthy; despite this there's little getting around the fact that a skilful player will be able to blast through them all in around an hour, assuming they pause for breath and have to restart once or twice.
That's an undeniable truth, but this package does offer up an unlockable World Tour that strings all four classes together, and though a run-through of this is just 30 minutes, it's an intense and highly focused half an hour. Super Hang-On is a title that incorporates borderline ludicrous speed — your bike is regularly going at a ridiculous 300km/h+ — and twitch controls to remind your thumbs of some old-school challenge. It's an '80s arcade experience through and through, in that realism is superfluous to the need for challenging fun and — in those days — gobbling up all of your pocket money.
What's enticing about this package on 3DS is not just the additional World Tour mode, but all of the ways that you can modify the experience. One key feature is the ability to set the difficulty in terms of your opponents on the road; though you're not racing others for placings — it's a timed dash, remember — rival bikes do nevertheless pose more danger than the roadside obstacles that you'll occasionally hit. They can be tricky to avoid — sometimes infuriatingly so — on bends in particular, but this download allows you to go from the extremes of making them matter-less ghost bikes that you pass through, or alternatively entirely obnoxious jerks that swerve to get into the way. We found the middle-ground works best, but the settings cater to different crowds.
In addition you can edit controls or try out alternative control schemes that forego the standard physical inputs. The most intriguing is the surprisingly effective Gyro sensor tilt option, which actually allows for a fairly tight degree of control, albeit while ruling out the practicality of the stereoscopic 3D visuals. It's also possible to steer with a stylus on the touch screen, though as you still hold down an acceleration button this seems rather needless. The best option, unsurprisingly, is the Circle Pad or D-Pad to steer, while we liked mapping accelerate to Y and turbo boost to R — yet the flexibility is there to do as you wish, which is welcome.
There are also some options that are sentimental fluff, but may give a kick to retro enthusiasts and newcomers alike. There are four different screen-sizes — full screen arguably has the best effect but does stretch the pixels, so there's a slightly narrower ratio as well as two smaller screens that have simulated arcade cabinet surroundings. You can even choose between the "Mini Ride-On Type" and "Sit Down Type" cabinets, while you can enable the option to have the screen tilt and sway as it would in the arcade. The latter option is fun for a one-off, but actually distorts the graphics in an odd way; after trying out the tilting screen we promptly disabled it. Further fan-service is offered with the facility to play any of the game's music tracks at will while messing about with a sound equaliser; again, not necessary, but a thoughtful inclusion.
We also can't help but be impressed with the strength of the port both visually and aurally — the smaller screens give the pixel-based visuals a sharpness they lacked in the console days or on an arcade cabinet, and the four music tracks on offer still rock our world. When blasting through the World Tour you can hear the full soundtrack over 30 minutes, and it's definitely best enjoyed with headphones. The performance is impeccably smooth with full 3D enabled, and the stereoscopic effect is pleasingly effective; fans may get a thrill the first time they see an opposition bike noticeably in the distance. The 3D visuals also help with handling corners, to a degree, making it easier to sense how sharp a turn is going to be.
Most importantly with 3D Super Hang-On is that it's a lot of fun to play in this iteration. It's fast, exciting and can demand the quickest of reactions. Simply blasting through full speed will see you crash at the side of the road, and eventually players will gain a sense of the slightly bonkers arcade logic to proceedings. What it's not is an accurate racer or sim, and its brevity may bother some that aren't immediately enraptured by its style and presentation.
3D Super Hang-On is a solid demonstration of how a fondly remembered arcade title can be repackaged and kept relevant on new hardware. Each addition either adds a pleasing twist or, at worst, can be ignored and left unused. It's a package full of care and fan-service, but this super-smooth and quick iteration is also a lot of fun today, stripping away any performance-related frustrations for those that encountered the 16-bit home console version. It's a short ride, sure, but one that's worth jumping into again and again.